Payton Inspires NFC Top Rusher Green
Friday, November 9, 2001
Associated Press

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- The remote in his hand, Ahman Green isn't channel surfing but trying to channel his idol, Walter Payton.

Green, the NFC's top rusher and league leader in yards from scrimmage, began a weekly ritual last season in which he draws the shades on the eve of games, sinks into his sofa and pops ``Pure Payton'' into the VCR.

He is immediately mesmerized as he watches Payton go from an impoverished childhood in the Deep South to Super Bowl champion for the Chicago Bears and the NFL's career rushing leader.

He watches Payton darting past defenders, slamming into tacklers, fighting, always fighting, for one more yard. He listens to his whispers of wisdom and admires his charitable spirit.

The Tao of Payton.

``I pop in the tape and basically get into the feel of the weekend, get ready mentally for what I've got to do as a running back, either pick up a block, running hard, giving that extra effort -- everything that Walter Payton did,'' the Packers' tailback explained.

The inspiration provided by the life story of Payton, who died of cancer and liver disease in 1999 at age 45, doesn't end at the sideline, either.

``It helps me kind of build my character off the field if I see how good a person he was for his teammates, not just on the field but off the field and for the community of Chicago, what he did for the charities,'' Green said.

``Every time I watch it, I'm helping make myself a better person. By trying to make myself a better person, I'm helping my team out, as well, to get where we want to be.''

Green has been a godsend to Green Bay since Mike Holmgren grew tired of his fumbles and shipped him out of Seattle two years ago for cornerback Fred Vinson.

Coach Mike Sherman, who was Holmgren's offensive coordinator with the Seahawks, figured Green just needed more carries to get used to the West Coast offense.

He was right.

When Dorsey Levens got hurt last season, Green responded by leading the team with 1,175 yards rushing and 73 receptions despite starting only 11 games.

This season he's rushed for 681 yards and his 293 yards on 35 receptions gives him an NFL-best 974 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for a career-best 169 yards last week against Tampa Bay.

And Green is still learning the offense, Favre said, ``which is scary, because this guy already is amazing.''

Green also has endeared himself to the community.

In the offseason he took classes at Wisconsin-Green Bay toward his degree in geography, which he hopes to teach in junior high when his playing days are over, and he helped coach a high school baseball team.

He even helped out the Packers by signing a cut-rate $17.5 million, five-year contract in July, because he and his wife, Shalynn, found Green Bay so much to their liking, much like Lincoln, Neb., where Green starred for the Cornhuskers.

Payton would be proud.

Green is especially eager to emulate his idol this week. The Packers (5-2) travel to Soldier Field to take on the hottest team in the league in the Bears (6-1), with first place in the NFC Central on the line.

It also gives Green a chance to perform on Payton's old turf.

``Once I got traded here, I was like, `OK, I'm going to play at least once a year there,''' Green said. ``I've got to go out there and give it all I've got because I know he's going to be watching.''

So, when Green pops in the video for the 28th time this weekend, he's sure he'll notice something different.

``It's just like watching a regular movie. You watch your favorite movie 20 times and from the first time to the 20th time you might pick up different things or different meanings from the movie,'' Green said.

``I see something or I hear something that he said and the rules and the morals that he lived by. And every time I hear them, I might get a different meaning or I might see something that I didn't see before.''

And little by little, Ahman Green gets more and more like Walter Payton every day.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press Information Services, all rights reserved.

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